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After Further Review: Vikings Mix It Up without Kyle Rudolph

It had been a long time since the Vikings hadn't played the entirety of a game without Kyle Rudolph.

The tight end missed Sunday's game at Tampa Bay because of a foot injury, ending his streak of consecutive regular-season starts at 93 games.

True, the 10-year pro had played extremely sparingly in Week 17 of 2019, but this was going to be uncharted water for the Vikings.

Minnesota turned to the combination of tight ends Tyler Conklin and Irv Smith, Jr., as well as bringing in extra tackle Rashod Hill as a sixth offensive lineman, and even had receiver Adam Thielen put his hand in the dirt at tight end.

Conklin started, lining up at receiver on the opening play of the game. Smith worked his way back from a back injury that had caused him to miss the previous two games.

The Vikings moved the ball well despite so many moving parts but were only able to score six points in the first half and just eight more in the second.

Dan Bailey's rough day has been well-documented, but Minnesota's offense also missed opportunities in the red zone (the Vikings went 2-for-4 inside the Buccaneers 20-yard line).

Here's a recap to the two touchdowns by the Vikings and two key negative plays.  

Q2, 14:22 remaining — Second-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 1

The Vikings go heavy with a goal line formation that has Conklin at tight end on the left of left tackle Riley Reiff. Hill comes in as an extra lineman to the right of right tackle Brian O'Neill, and Thielen moseys up to the line of scrimmage at tight end on the outside of Hill.

1 (2)

Minnesota has Kirk Cousins under center with fullback C.J. Ham and running back Dalvin Cook in the I-formation.

Tampa Bay crowds the line of scrimmage with eight defenders, including linebacker Lavonte David on the right edge of the defense. David crashes from the edge, but left guard Dakota Dozier pulls and takes him out of the play. Conklin blocks defensive end Pat O'Connor, and Ham makes it through a tight gap to block enough of linebacker Kevin Minter.

Cook powers through a tackle attempt by O'Connor, then accelerates to reach the ball across the goal line before a tackle attempt by linebacker Devin White.

Q2, 10:20 remaining — Third-and-7 at the Tampa Bay 11

The Vikings use a personnel grouping of one tight end and four receivers, initially starting with slot receiver Chad Beebe on the left of Cousins in the shotgun formation.

Beebe motions back to the slot, but it doesn't bother the Buccaneers, who drop seven players into coverage and rush just four defenders.

Justin Jefferson runs an in-breaking route and draws heavy contact by White as Cousins is debating his options. Perhaps a vet is able to draw an illegal contact call (since Cousins still has the ball), perhaps not. Rather than dropping directly to the ground, Jefferson spins and keeps his footing for a moment, but the timing is way off.

No one has won anywhere else, and Cousins is sacked for a loss of 6.

2 (2)

Q3, 1:43 remaining — First-and-5 at the Tampa Bay 14

This time, the Vikings go with Smith on the left of Reiff and Ham on the left of Smith. Hill has replaced O'Neill because of an injury to the right tackle.

Cousins is again in the gun with Ameer Abdullah on his left.

The Vikings use a combination of shallow crossing routes by Smith and Jefferson and Tampa Bay's desire to double team Thielen (at the top of the screen grab below). Jefferson draws enough attention from White, allowing Smith to find an opening in the Buccaneers zone. Cousins puts the ball on the money, and Smith decisively turns and sprints to the end zone.

3 (1)

Q4, 10:28 remaining — Second-and-goal at the Tampa Bay 8

Following an incompletion under pressure on first down, the Bucs turn up the heat with a blitz on second down.

Minnesota again uses one tight end and four receivers with Cook in the backfield to the right of Cousins in the gun.

The Bucs bring pressure from each side of the line, with rookie Antoine Winfield, Jr., stealthily sneaking his way up to the line of scrimmage while hiding behind Anthony Nelson. Winfield screams from the right of the defense, and linebacker Shaquil Barrett is unblocked from the left edge.

Cousins fakes a handoff to Cook as part of the play-action design, but the use of Cook as a decoy doesn't deter the rush and puts the running back out of position to block Winfield or Barrett.

Winfield records the sack and forces a fumble in just 2.06 seconds, the fastest sack recorded by a player in the NFL this season. Another sack followed, and a 46-yard field goal attempt missed wide right to end the series.